Donald Trump didn’t just look presidential during his address to a joint session of Congress last night, CNN’s Van Jones argued. Trump assumed the moral mantle of the office when he honored Carryn Owens, the widow of the Navy SEAL killed in action during a mission in January. “He became president of the United States in that moment, period,” Jones declared in last night’s post-speech analysis at CNN. That analysis didn’t set well with Jones’ social-media followers, but summed up the general post-speech reaction:
JONES: He became president of the United States in that moment, period. There are a lot of people who have a lot of reason to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him, to be mad of him, but that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period. And he did something extraordinary.
The moment certainly was the biggest of the speech, but was it really that extraordinary? Presidents routinely invite guests to highlight either service or sacrifice, including the families of men and women who gave their lives for our country. What made this moment so special was Owens herself, and her courage and sense of duty to her late husband so soon after having him taken from her.
Perhaps the truly extraordinary action Trump took was to recognize the moment, and to keep the focus on Owens, as Chris Cillizza argues, not the salute itself:
Trump rapidly grasped that this was a real moment — and he didn’t step on it by trying to immediately return to his speech. Lots of politicians, obsessed with making sure they got the speech out in the allotted time, would have moved on too quickly — missing the resonance of the cascades of applause that washed over the rawly emotional Carryn Owens. Trump understands moments; he stepped away from the podium, looked to Owens and just clapped. For the better part of two minutes, the only thing you heard in the room was loud applause and the only thing you saw was Carryn Owens crying and looking heavenward. Very powerful stuff.
Critics will say — and have already said — that Trump was using a widow’s emotion for political gain. But Owens willingly agreed to come to the speech knowing Trump would single her out. And, politicians of both parties regularly use these tragic moments to make broader points about our country and its policies. That’s politics. To suggest that Trump somehow broke with political norms here is to turn a blind eye to virtually every speech like this given by any recent president of either party.
Jones continued by wondering whether those demanding “healing” will take this opportunity to promote it:
JONES: And for people who had been hoping he would become unifying, hoping that he might find someway to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should be a little bit worried tonight. Because that thing you just saw him do, if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years.
That may not be the only thing working in favor of a second Trump term. During this same moment, some Democrats sat out the standing ovation for Owens. According to IJR’s Benny Johnson, that includes the past DNC chair and its new deputy chair:
Sobbing widow of slain Navy Seal receives 2 minute standing ovation.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz & Keith Ellison stay firmly seated, no claps
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) March 1, 2017
FOR THE RECORD: Carryn Owens had 2 ovations.
DWS & Ellison stood for her intro.
The really long, emotional 2 min one, they did not stand.
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) March 1, 2017
Ben Shapiro ripped Democrats for putting partisanship in front of support for a military widow, and included screenshots that supported Johnson’s reporting:
As his widow wept and mouthed to heaven, “I love you, baby,” Trump led a round of applause that lasted two minutes.
And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) apparently sat there and didn’t cheer as the incredible moment progressed, along with Senator Bernie Sanders and others – see this video at approximately three minutes in, as the cameras pan the crowd. … Maybe it was more important for Democrats not to cheer in Trump’s presence than to cheer a hero.
The phrase this is how you got Trump has become cliché, but … it does seem to apply in this case. I don’t believe for a second that these Democrats feel nothing for Owens, but they let partisanship get ahead of a naturally unifying moment that really had nothing to do with Trump. Jones’ question gets answered by the very moment he cites, in this case. It exemplifies the division-at-all-costs of the Democratic “resistance,” which made them look incredibly petty in front of a national audience.
This Democratic leadership class has taken their party off an electoral cliff over the last eight years. They seem prepared to “Thelma and Louise” all the way to the bottom. That may have a lot more to do with future failures than routine State of the Union strategies.